CANBERRA Raiders skipper Terry Campese says he’s happy to hand his treasured No.6 jersey to youngster Jack Wighton, endorsing the comparisons to Laurie Daley and declaring the 21-year-old is destined for state-of-origin football as early as this year.
Just 27 games into his NRL career, which began on the wing, Wighton will start at five-eighth for the first time against Australia’s champion No.6 Johnathan Thurston in next Saturday’s season-opener against the North Queensland Cowboys in Townsville.
It is arguably the biggest challenge in rugby league. Thurston is the reigning Golden Boot winner, the second time he has been voted the world’s best player.
But Campese has so much faith in his new halves partner, he says it is not beyond the former Orange CYMS and Bloomfield Tigers junior to face-off against Queensland’s Thurston again in state of origin - as early as this year.
“It’s a good first-up challenge. There’s no better way to kick off your career as a five-eighth than playing against one of the best that’s ever played the game,” Campese said.
“But there’s no doubts in my mind, the team’s or the coaching staff that Jack’s going to be a success there. It was only a matter of time before he moved there so we could get his hands on the ball more.
“He played a fair bit of five-eighth when he was younger, so I think it just comes natural to him.
“Jacko will be wearing the six and I’ll be in the seven. I can’t wait to run out there, be a bit closer to the ruck and play in the halves with him. He’s a great defender and he’s definitely someone who will be pushing for representative honours this year as well.’’
“He could play anywhere, the choice is really open. If he can make a good fist of five-eighth there’s no reason he can’t make it there ... He’s a young kid on the rise and hopefully this year’s the year"
Wighton represented NSW Country in the centres last year, but Raiders coach Ricky Stuart immediately identified him as a five-eighth when he took over at the club in October last year.
Stuart has compared him to his former teammate, Laurie Daley, who also started his career in the centres and became one of Australia’s great five-eighths.
Campese, who played one Test for Australian in 2008 and for NSW in 2009, said Wighton’s versatility made him an ideal representative candidate for the Blues, under Daley’s coaching.
“Laurie started in the centres as well, so it’s very similar pathways they’ve taken in their careers,” Campese said.
“He could play anywhere, the choice is really open. If he can make a good fist of five-eighth there’s no reason he can’t make it there. Even on the bench as a utility.
“He’s a young kid on the rise and hopefully this year’s the year.”
Campese and Wighton are yet to play a game together in the halves, Campese rested during the pre-season trials.
But he was confident the pair would click and the combination could provide even more variety in attack for the Raiders.
The halves will be given more of a roving role, rather than being restricted to each side of the field, while Wighton’s left-foot kicking game complements Campese’s right boot.
“We’ll be spreading the kicking duties to make it a bit more unpredictable,” Campese said.
“I remember Jack was playing outside me last year. I was giving him some early ball and he was doing great things.
“I think at the start we’ll just play with our eyes and play where we feel comfortable, rather than staying on one side each.”